Podcast: SJ 102: Survivor; RuPaul’s Drag Race; Ghost Brothers; Veep; Keanu; Mother’s Day; Green Room; Ratchet and Clank

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about Survivor; RuPaul’s Drag Race; Ghost Brothers; Veep; Keanu; Mother’s Day; Green Room; Ratchet and Clank

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Mother’s Day

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Swanner: I don’t know much that can terrify a movie critic more than the words “from the makers of New Year’s Eve & Valentine’s Day” but, with that being said, they have made changes to the “model” of these holiday movies. They have dropped it down to only three storylines compared to the 400 in the two previous films. That helped with character development and just making sense of the story. The first story follows Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), who discovers her ex has just remarried. Story two follows Jesse (Kate Hudson) and her next door neighbor sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke), who have moved as far as they can to avoid their hateful mother. Finally, Kristin (Britt Robertson) who meets her birth mother for the first time.

Director Garry Marshall has directed all three films and, with trial and error, has made this film the best of the group. Oddly enough, the script is written by three rookies, and one writer with one writing credit. Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Matthew Walker and Anya Kochoff (Mother in Law) make up the writing team that proves rookies can offer something fresh, because that’s how the film feels. It’s not muddled down into too many vignettes, and you know all the characters and who belongs with whom.

Like the rest of these films, they have a big cast of notable faces. Think Love Boat sans Charo. Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Margo Martindale, Assif Mandvi, Robert Pine, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Garner, Jack Whitehall, Cameron Esposito and Julia Roberts. These are chick flicks as far as the eye can see, and the perfect movie to take mom. The film is sweet and funny, but does get a bit schmaltzy. But for a movie called Mother’s Day, I think you have to expect schmaltz.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars

Ratchet and Clank

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I’ve been playing the Ratchet & Clank since the first game came out in 2002 for the Playstation 2. I like the franchise because it’s colorful and humorous – a refreshing change that was especially welcome in the early 2000s when every publishing company wanted to be gritty and realistic, thanks for nothing GTA: San Andreas. The franchise revolves around a Lombax, Ratchet, a racoony-cat like creature and his robot buddy Clank. The titles traditionally involve juvenile puns like Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, Size Matters, and gameplay would have our heroes traveling to distant planets to battle the bad guy while using a huge variety of weapons. So how would the humor and the weapons translate onto the big screen? Would the movie suffer the same pitfalls as other game-based films?

The answer is, unfortunately, yes. Videogame movie don’t work because you never get to play them, and the story usually comes from a game you’ve already played, so you know the plot. Nothing is new. Ratchet and Clank the movie is based on the first game, where an evil industrialist, Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) is blowing up planets to take their pieces and create a new planet for his people after they’ve made their own uninhabitable from pollution. Ratchet and Clank join Captain Quark and the Galactic Rangers to save their galaxy.

The set-up was slow, the script was thin, and the jokes were sparse. There were some very funny throwaway gags here and there, but not enough to carry the story. Of course, Sony was targeting folks like me who are familiar with and like the franchise, but they aren’t going to win any new fans who go to the movie as an introduction. If you’re not a super-fan, I would recommend staying home and for those who think they want to see the movie, buy the games instead. You’ll have more fun in the long run.

Judd: 1 star.

Green Room

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One of the most psychologically tense movies I’ve seen in quite some time was Green Room. After a touring punk band is witness to a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar where they just played a set, they’re locked in the green room as a group of killer Nazi’s and the establishment owner, played with subdued menace by Patrick Stewart, decide how they’re going to remedy the situation. It is quickly realized that the remedy is an elaborate, untraceable “elimination” of the band. Along with Stewart, the movie also stars Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, and Macon Blair. Green Room was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, a relative newcomer on the scene, but one who has demonstrated enormous potential.

For me, the whole punks vs skinheads was a meaningless aside to the real meat of the story, but I can see how it will make the movie all that more appealing to a punk fan – we all love a relatable hero – but this could have been Gearheads vs Bikers; Preps vs Greasers; or Masons vs Elks and it still would have worked. Saulnier establishes our heroes as true punks playing small gigs; crashing on couches, and siphoning gas for their 30 year old van. Twenty minutes into the movie, we have a dead body and a group of skinheads preparing for a mass murder; Saulnier puts the audience on the edge of their seat and leaves them there for the next 74 minutes. Rated R, the movie is realistic with its blood and gore, and we’re treated to dog maulings, stabbings, gun shots and a very high body count. What sets Green Room apart from its peers is the thought that went into the plot setups and twists. Saulnier wrote an extremely tight script with plenty of foreshadowing and subtle clues dropped throughout that deftly crop back up at just the right time. It’s a trick that can easily come across as clumsy and blatant if not done correctly.

While I really enjoyed Green Room, and it was extremely effective at keeping me tense until the end, it’s not a movie I would watch again. It doesn’t have the same sense of fun that the similar “no way out” movie, You’re Next, had. One could argue that the movies shouldn’t be compared, but they were both equally bloody, violent, and entertaining, but You’re Next doesn’t have the nihilistic undercurrent that coursed through Green Room. But then again, what’s punk rock without a heavy dose of nihilism?

Judd: 3 ½ stars

Keanu

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Swanner: For all those fans that miss the Key and Peele show, you can rejoice and stop reading and head to Keanu for some big laughs; the rest need to read this review. I’m a fan of the comedy team so I knew what I was getting myself into, but people going to see the kitten movie may be surprised. The storyline deals with a kitten who survives a drug house massacre and ends up on Rell’s (Jordan Peele) doorstep. They instantly become Rell and Keanu Together Forever. When Rell returns home after a movie with his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), they find that his apartment has been ransacked and only Keanu has been taken.

The film is your standard buddy comedy where the boys get caught up with drug dealers and killers. What makes this film work for me, was that no matter how awful the characters were, they all have love for Keanu and the audience understands and agrees. The one thing people will be talking about, beside Keanu’s cuteness, is the fact that the “N” word is used here more than in a Quentin Tarantino film. It’s funny, but my white guilt had me feeling bad for laughing. 

The film was directed by Peter Atencio (Key and Peele) and written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens (Key and Peele), so this basically is an extended version of their series in a feature length film. Beside the two stars, there’s a funny group of actors including Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Luis Guzman, Will Forte and Nia Long. The film goes a bit long, but the fans won’t mind because this might be the last we see of these two actors together. If you have an interest to see more of the guys, go online to The Comedy Network. You won’t be sorry.

Swanner: 3 stars

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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Swanner: The Huntsman: Winter’s War starts at a time long ago with two sisters, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt). Ravenna has magic to get what she wants, but Freya has no powers until after a tragedy strikes her child. With all her rage, Freya becomes the “Ice” Queen and leaves the castle to start her own icy kingdom. Sound familiar? Freya needs an army, so she steals away all the children in the land to raise them to protect her and her castle. Seven years later, Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) falls in love with Sara the Huntsman (Jessica Chastain) who are forbidden to be together by Freya.

Jump to the time after the original film where we see Eric ordered to find Ravenna’s mirror before Freya does. There is a lot of story here, and it feels like it. Director Cedric Nicolas-Trojan makes his directorial debut, he previously was Special Effect Director on the original film, and it shows. The film is filled with “wow” special effect moments and not much real substance. The script actually comes from two writers who are known for their sequels. Evan Spiliotopoulos (Lion King 1 ½) and Craig Mazin (The Hangover 3) give us a mix of too many stories that just has you begging for it to end. I’m not saying the film is unwatchable, it just could have been so much better.

The Huntsman is a prequel/sequel to the Kristen Stewart film from 2012. Interesting that this prequel/sequel includes both Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, both from the earlier film, yet no Kristen Stewart. They make reference to Snow White, but with the exception of a flashback, Stewart is absent from this film. Lesson to be learned, this is what happens when you don’t get along with people. The villains are good, but the rest of the film just feels tired. I will say that Colleen Atwood, the costume designer, steals the show with her amazing gowns and beautiful costumes. Overall, the film is enjoyable, if you can shutdown your critical eye and just be wowed by the technicians who are the real stars here.

Swanner: 2 stars